February 9, 2010

Collaboration – Writing is a Team Sport

Filed under: Uncategorized — heratech @ 10:00 pm
Tags: , ,

Collaborating over a laptopSeveral friends and I started a historical reenactment group last year. Since we are a new group, when we had our first encampment, I wrote up a recruitment flier to hand out to potential new members. I included a list of minimum kit: clothing, shoes, and personal items. I also listed the sort of people we were looking for: those who love history and are willing to work with the general public (especially children). Then I sent the draft out to a couple of our founding members for comments. And Alena wrote back that while I’d listed what potential members would do for the Guild, I’d forgotten to list what the Guild could do for potential members. D’oh! I quickly added a “Benefits of Membership” section to the flier. This wasn’t the first time that Alena had made suggestions that improved my writing.

The popular image of a writer has them hunched over a typewriter in some lonely garret, toiling over their manuscript without any human contact. But that image of the lone writer is a myth. Writers work with other people all the time. If you’ve ever read the Acknowledgements section of a book, the author almost always thanks an entire team of people who helped make their work possible. Chief among the people thanked is often their editor.

At my first technical writing job I was lucky enough to work with a fantastic editor, Paul Dixon. I was fresh out of my TW certificate program, and the only editor I’d worked with until that point was Judy Tarutz, who had volunteered her time to perform an editing pass on the students’ major projects. Working with Paul was a great learning experience. He covered my drafts in blue, green, or purple ink (he avoided red) writing comments, questions, and suggestions in the margins. Answering his questions forced me to reexamine choices or assumptions I’d made, revise poorly written sentences, and delve deeper into the product to expand my understanding. My second drafts were always improved by his edits. The seven years that we worked together helped shape me into the technical writer that I am today.

Some of the writers on our team resisted being edited. Some didn’t want to give up their love affair with the passive voice. And I think that others confused criticism of their draft with criticism of them as a person. It takes a strong sense of self to accept criticism of your work without taking it personally. I find that adopting the attitude that all feedback is for the good of the customer and documentation helps make criticism easier to accept. You need to step back from your writing and humbly accept the feedback that others are offering you.

Are you open to collaboration? Do you collaborate with your subject matter experts on what should be included in the product documentation? Do you work closely with an editor during developmental edits? Do you read test cases to get ideas for customer workflows? Do you tag team with other writers on your team? Do you work with your sales or marketing or training departments to coordinate the public facing documents in your company?

And if you don’t, why not?

My company recently hired a course developer/trainer. I recommended a former coworker of mine that I knew had recently been laid off. I was delighted when we hired him, since I had always tried to work with the training department when we worked together. I’m really looking forward to being able to collaborate with Herb as the work he’s doing interviewing our SMEs will also help me to fill in the holes in my documentation set. We’ll both be working on standardizing the terminology that we use to discuss the product, components, and processes. And when he starts building course modules, I’ll be one of his beta readers. I’m excited that I will no longer be the only person writing content for customers. Having a partner in crime gives us the potential to harness the synergy of collaboration.

Writing is a team sport. Who are your collaboration partners?

Blog at WordPress.com.